2017-04-20 / Columns

Les Cheneaux

By Helen Shoberg
484-2626 • hcshoberg@gmail.com

Approximately 30 years ago, I wrote a story about the early lumbering days in the Les Cheneaux Islands. There is a lot of history in this story that may prove interesting to many of our newer residents of the Les Cheneaux Islands. The story is reprinted here. It reads as follows:

Les Cheneaux, with its heavily wooded countryside along the shores of Lake Huron, was a natural for the lumbering industry. The warning cry of “timber” and the shouting of the lumberjacks in the winter forests were common sounds in those early days. At a time long ago, when lumber was known as the “money crop,” hardy woodsmen left in late fall for the woods to sign up at the lumber camps near Cedarville, Hessel, Raber, Pine River, Prentiss Bay, and DeTour.

According to most historians, the local pioneering era opened around 1880, with the coming of D.J. Piret, an early missionary, as well as early lumbermen and fishermen. Unlike in many regions, however, the pioneering chapter here was short. Almost at once, the Indian wigwams gave way to summer homes throughout the islands.

Frand R. Grover, one of the early founders of the Les Cheneaux Club, records that he was told by Joseph P. Fenlon of Hessel, that at the time, his family, the Edward P. Fenlons, settled a mile north of the village in the 1880s. At that time, there was an Indian settlement at Hessel consisting of about 20 bark wigwams, such as the Indians used before they moved into houses and several log cabins. They were of the Chippewa tribe, and not one of them [spoke] English.

With the stands of hardwoods, lumber camps and sawmills served as key industries. Lumbermen who planned a major role in the early logging days were H.P. and W.D. Hossack, Edward and James Fenlon, John and Charles Hessel, F.R. Haynes, Amos H. Beach, Charles Weston, Vancel Hodeck, Patrick Mertaugh, and many others.

There was an old sawmill located where the present Cedarville Trailer Park is now. It operated until sometime in the 1920s, but the old mill stack, after the removal of the mill, stood high and erect until the winter of 1938, when it fell to the ground one night during a heavy snowstorm. The mill had been established here in 1889. With no radio or television, most of the residents of that early day set their watches and clocks by the mill whistle that was heard six days a week, at 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. The whistle marked the start and the end of a 10-hour workday, six days a week. This mill was owned and operated by the F.R. Haynes Company of Port Huron.

Among the thriving lumbering operations doing a year-around business in the early 20th century in the Hessel area was that of William Doyle. In the heart of the hardwoods, north of the Burlew Mill, this early sawmill turned out maple lumber, much of which went into the furniture fashioned in the Grand Rapids furniture factories.

The mill employed 12 men, and after a week of hard work in the timber, the men often walked to the homes of Tom Webb and Clyde Wisner, or Charlie Hill for a rollicking night of square dancing.

Music for these lumberjack jamborees consisted of two pieces, George Webb with his violin, and Clyde Wisner at the old pump organ. Clyde lived in Hessel for more than half a century, and had many wonderful memories of the early frontier lumbering days. Many of his descendants still reside in the area.

The F.R. Haynes Lumber camps, according to notes written by the late Roy Young, were sort of a miniature type of Paul Bunyan camp, but probably one of the largest camps in the Upper Peninsula. There were four main buildings: a cook camp, men’s camp, barn, and blacksmith shop. In addition, there were about 25 family dwellings surrounding the camp, making a regular village during the winter months.

The barn and cook camp were about 120 feet long, and the men’s camp was about the same, housing about 60 people. The barn was divided into two sections and held about 20 teams of horses. The cook camp was also divided into two sections, the smaller one for living and very comfortable and cozy with a large box stove, carpets, and four bedrooms. The cooking and eating section held three cook stoves and could hold eight tables of 12 men. Ephriam of Pickford supplied all of the hay and oats for the horses, as well as a lot of pork and beef for the cook camp. There were also hired girls and women to help with the cooking and cleaning.

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